Residents disappointed over landmines act

TAIWAN, 03.04.2006 - Although the legislative caucuses finally reached a consensus on a bill seeking to remove and ban landmines -- four years after it was first proposed -- on March 20, residents of the outlying islands that are plagued by landmines have found little reason to rejoice.


The residents charged that legislators gave in to the Ministry of National Defense's request that landmines be maintained on the islands for military purposes.

According to Article 3 of the just-concluded version of the draft law, called the "Landmines Regulation Act," only "anti-personnel mines" fulfill the definition of landmines.

That means anti-vehicle mines are not covered by the regulation.

Moreover, an article granting the ministry the right to use antipersonnel mines during war when it is imperative was also written into the bill.

The current version thus allows the ministry to leave anti-vehicle mines in place and to use anti-personnel mines in the future, said Robert Lin (林錦川), vice chief executive officer of Eden Social Welfare Foundation, the organization that initiated the bill's drafting.

While Taiwan is not a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Convention) -- the international agreement that bans landmines -- Lin said that the version pending in the Legislative Yuan "does not meet the treaty's demands."

Based on the treaty's interpretation, Lin said, anti-vehicle mines with anti-handling devices or sensitive fuses that may be triggered off by an unintentional or innocent act are considered "antipersonnel mines" and are therefore banned.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of 1,200 non-governmental organizations in 60 countries working for a global ban on landmines, made the interpretation thanks to the fact that many anti-vehicles also cause severe civilian suffering.

"We have been advancing the idea [of prohibiting all landmines] for 10 years. Although it is understandable that the ministry wants to use landmines to fend off potential Chinese attacks, the consequence of using landmines is hard to compute," Lin said.

"The cost of burying a landmine might be as cheap as US$1, but the cost of removing it might be as high as US$100, not to mention the lifelong damage it can inflict on a person," Lin said.,

Li Hsi-sheng (李錫盛), the honorary president of the Kinmen Welfare Promotion Association for the Disabled, said, "It's unacceptable that [legislators] agreed on the conditional use of landmines rather than supported our appeal for a comprehensive cleanup of the landmines."

"Life is practically over when one is injured in a landmine blast," the 67-year-old Li said.

"That was my experience. I was then 19, walking on our own farmland with my mother behind me," he said.

The blast deprived Li of his left leg and changed his life.

"I used to farm and fish before the blast. After being treated and fitted with a prosthetic limb, I switched to haircutting. However, as I couldn't stand too long with an artificial limb, I gave it up and started to sell drinks for a living," he said.

Li added that what he never imagined was that he would step on a landmine on his own farm.

"During the wartime, there was no distinction between minefields and non-minefields. Most of time, [the military] would just lay the mines at night at any place and pick them up the following day," he said.

Li added that while potential minefields have been fenced in and marked with a signboard that reads "Danger, Mines," residents don't know where the landmines exactly are, posing a threat to their lives and hampering their efforts to develop the land.

The government planted over 100,000 landmines during the Battle of Kuningtou in 1949 and August 23, 1958 Artillery Bombardment, as a precaution against invasion by Chinese troops on the islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Dong Yin.

While the ministry has always kept the size of the mined areas confidential, a legislator told reporters that there are a total of 200 minefields, covering some 2.86 million square meters.

However, Lu Kuang-ho (呂光河), a warden borough of Kinhu (金湖) Township in Kinmen County, said that even the defense ministry does not have an exact estimate of the size of the mined areas.

"Last April, the number of landmines removed for a dam construction project here was 40 times higher than that the defense ministry had expected," Lu said.

The construction site is still not clear, the warden said.

The landmines clearance project was forced to come to a halt because of an accident on April 25 last year, in which two Zimbabwean mine disposal technicians were killed and another was injured.

Since then, about 800 landmines have been left unattended at four temporary storage facilities, Lu said.

"It has been one year since the accident, but the government seemed to have turned a deaf ear to the people's appeals to dispose of the landmines, to identify cracks in their houses caused by the explosion, and to compensate them for the losses," Lu said.

He said that about 160 households in three villages were affected last year by the blast.

"They have lived with leaking roofs over the past year, waiting for the government's response," he said.

Upon hearing that the bill that stipulates that the government shall remove anti-personnel mines within seven years and make reparation for the damage caused by landmines, Lu said that he hoped the government meant it for real this time.

According to the ministry, landmine blast casualties in the outlying islands reached 102 as of September 2004.

Von: By Shih Hsiu-chuan,

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